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Navigating The Hero’s Journey. Part 2

In extraordinary states of consciousness, however, something more is needed. For example, say a loved one dies. Or you really want to make a difference in the world, but don’t know how. Or you are under extreme stress at work. Or you are going through a divorce. Or you are traveling in a dangerous neighborhood and feel exceptionally vulnerable. In such instances, your Somatic Mind needs more capacities. It needs to be able to hold confusion, to experience intense challenges and emotions, to tolerate contradictory emotions, to shift into states of rest, to relax while staying alert, to attune to intuitive and non-rational wisdom, and to take creative action. At such times, a Generative level of Somatic Mind is needed.

The question of identity—«Who are you and in what larger world do you belong?»—is central to both of us (see Gilligan, 1987, 1997, 2004; Dilts, 1987, 1990, 1996, 2000, 2003). We see identity as multi-leveled and unfolding in a developmental series of «death and rebirth» cycles. We see some experiences as «ordinary» in that in order to navigate them, you can stay within your established identity; you don’t have to leave your present frame of reference. You can respond with learned strategies with reasonable expectations of success. Other experiences and challenges are «extra-ordinary,» that is, they move you outside the «box» of your «ordinary» self and thus require «extra-ordinary» responses, that is, experiential understandings and responses beyond what you’ve done before. In the Hero’s Journey, it is especially important to know the difference between these two levels of consciousness.

Generative Self is a process developed from the field of Self-Relations (Gilligan, 1997, 2003, 2005). Self-relations emphasizes that the relational response to experiences determines its shape, value, and outcome. That is, experiences do not exist independent of an experiencer. The experience is being constructed in each ongoing moment by a person or persons. Self-relations examines how a person can optimally relate to a given experience so that positive outcomes may be achieved. Furthermore, it emphasizes how negative experiences reflect unskillful relationships that can be shifted to produce positive outcomes. This work is based in no small part on the legacy of Milton Erickson, who was legendary for his capacity to accept and transform the most difficult patterns of behavior.

In modeling Erickson’s generative strategies, Self-Relations distinguishes three Minds: (1) the Somatic Mind (as a local embodied intelligence), (2) the Relational Field Mind (as a non-local or collective intelligence), and (3) the Cognitive Mind as a sort of bridge between the two worlds. SR further emphasizes two levels of each Mind: (a) a Basic Level, concerned with remedial operations, and (b) a Generative Level that occurs when all three Minds are harmonized and aligned. The Generative Self is a sort of subtle meta-field that holds all the basic operations with awareness and skillfulness, while adding other features that transform its form and function in significant ways. SR suggests that while the Basic Levels are sufficient for ordinary adaptive functions, the Generative Levels are needed to navigate and transform the extraordinary states of consciousness that occur, intentionally or unwanted, on the Hero’s Journey.. Thus, if individuals are going to successfully meet these great challenges, they need to develop some capacity to develop a Generative Self. The next sections suggest a few ways this might happen.

The Somatic Mind and the principle of centering

The Somatic Mind may be considered the ground floor or the platform for the Generative Self. At its Basic Level, the Somatic Mind operates with mammalian instinctual drives for food, sex, territory, and hierarchy. It carries an emotional history that guides its behaviors. In stress, it uses fight/flight/freeze responses. It is especially connected with the limbic system and its mammalian orientation to relational connection (see Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2000); that is, it knows how to «hook up» and be in subtle resonance with others. It does most of this without self-awareness, that is, it responds to a situation in either an instinctual or conditioned (learned) way.

One simple method of centering is to find a quiet place to sit and settle. One can then follow a 4-step cycle of (1) sensing good posture, (2) relaxing the muscles, (3) focusing attention through the solar plexus, and (4) imagining breathing one’s thoughts into a liquid that moves through the body, then out into the world. Repeating these 4 steps (with eyes opened or closed) can help a person shift into a felt sense of quiet, alert awareness. One might then remember an experience of great well-being—e.g., in nature, with a loved one, or by one’s self. As you breathe the memory of well-being through your body, notice where the core feeling of the experience is felt in your body. Most people experience it in their belly, or solar plexus, or heart area. These are different possible «centers» to which one can attune. Many people find it helpful to place their hand gently on the felt center, bringing their awareness more integrated into it.

The process of centering has many values. First, it promotes calm yet alert awareness. Internal dialogue reduces and somatic attunement increases, thereby allowing more effective responsiveness. Second, centering can stabilize attention under stressful conditions. For example, say an aggressive person is talking to you in an intimidating fashion. Centering allows you to give «first attention» (see Gilligan, 1997) to your core in a grounded, relaxing way, rather than have it get locked onto a stressful person, memory, or internal image. You can then open and extend your awareness beyond the stressor, so that a spacious feeling of openness beyond the problem is experienced. Third, centering allows unitive, non-dualistic experiencing. The typical «either/or» splits of mind vs. body, self vs. other, good vs. bad dissolve into a more integrated sensing of «what is». This allows consciousness to align with the life force energy—the «ki» of aikido, «chi» of tai chi, feeling of «the zone», the grace of «spirit», etc. This doesn’t mean the capacity for cognitive differentiation is reduced; rather, it is re-connected with its deeper platform of natural intelligence in a way that promotes the experience of concentrated «flow» (see Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and integrated functioning. Control is replaced by cooperation, domination by resourceful utilization, and clashing by harmonizing. This can be done even under stressful, antagonistic conditions, as the martial art of aikido is able to reliably show.

To reiterate, this access to a Generative Somatic Mind is made available whenever experience takes one outside their normal identity parameters. This can involve either experiences of well-being or experiences of ill-being—e..g., a trauma. In both cases, the disruption of an identity state activates the Generative Somatic Mind and its centers, thereby amplifying non-rational archetypal/emotional processes. If a person is disconnected from Somatic Mind, the resulting experiences may be experienced as frightening, overwhelming, and confusing. Reactive measures to control such uncomfortable experiences are what create symptomatic experiences. Alternatively, a centered person can welcome and work with the emerging experiences in ways that transform identity.